Putting out fires vs. igniting a learning support system: A guest post from Windy Lopez
By Guest Blogger on June 27th, 2012
At Scholastic we talk a lot about the power of reading and quality classroom instruction and intervention. The good news is that, thanks to years of focused research and practice, education and publishing leaders are helping many teachers and children succeed. The bad news is that there is an increasing majority of students who are failing because of complex reasons that interfere with their ability to benefit from good instruction.
Initially seeking a way to help schools rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, Scholastic learned about Drs. Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor from the Center at UCLA; they’ve spent 30 years researching comprehensive systems of learning supports that address barriers to learning. Their work inspired us. The types of barriers they study include everything from chronic poverty, bullying, ELL issues, domestic violence, and inadequate healthcare. For those of us who have taught and (more than once) shared our lunch with a hungry student so they could get through our next lesson, we know first hand that this list of outside barriers goes on and on.
While most schools and districts have programs (and funding) to tackle these specific issues, research has shown that these student support efforts are highly fragmented and marginalized (not seen as important) and, therefore, efforts generally focus on crisis intervention (“putting out the fires”). While we know there is no getting around the crisis at your door or in the hallway, we are seeing and believing in the impact of taking a systemic approach to these issues.
Since Katrina, Scholastic has expanded our work with UCLA to include a Lead District Collaborative with the American Association of School Administrators. Together, we’re helping to disseminate a “new directions” approach to developing a unified and comprehensive system of learning supports at schools. As part of the collaborative, Gainesville City Schools in Georgia, led by Superintendent (and trailblazer) Dr. Merrianne Dyer, is seeing the outcomes of a creating and implementing a learning supports system that weaves together school, home, and community programming, funding streams and resources.
So what has this new approach provided? Gainesville City School’s outcomes, documented in a recent case study by the Education Development Center, include an increase in graduation rates (from 73.3% in 2009 to 81.3% in 2010 and 84.9 % in 2011!) as well as a significant decrease in referrals for disciplinary action/tribunals. The district has also been able to further build capacity around family and community literacy engagement. The district, partnering with Gainesville City Housing Authority and other community-led organizations, has successfully started implementing the Scholastic Read and Rise family engagement literacy program. In pre- and post-surveys of the first pilot program, more than 92% of participating parents reported an increase in supporting their children’s literacy development at home.
As Dr. Dyer puts it, “We can see the power in the coherence (of our system). It’s like putting a machine together and getting it to work more effectively.” Gainesville leaders and others invovled will be addressing the importance of this issue at the AASA Summer Institute in Baltimore today.
What are your thoughts and ideas about the need for a unified, comprehensive, and sustainable system of learning supports to address barriers to learning and teaching and to re-engage disconnected students?